Their special recipe for a new restaurant was to combine their business and travel experiences while sprinkling in a strong sense of hospitality and friendliness.
The husband and wife team of Faïz (rhymes with "eyes") de Beer and chef Louise Briskie-de Beer used those ingredients to whip up their latest culinary speciality, their restaurant Café Savour at 956 St. Mary's Rd.
Patrons of the de Beers may remember the restaurant's previous incarnation as Lulu's, but after running the eatery for a few years and finding their way in the business, the married couple of 33 years, parents of three and grandparents of three, decided to close up shop temporarily to travel, think, eat, eat some more, and redesign the concept into something more personal -- and definitely more eclectic.
The de Beers say they have always been "food people," starting their family in the country and growing much of their own food. Louise spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking for family and friends both, and before long people were asking her to cater small events like baby showers. She ran her own catering business for a while, then took a break when her boys were teens and her father joined the household.
After being "sandwiched" for a few years, the couple took the plunge into something they could call their own and opened Lulu's, and when they decided to change the concept, travel seemed like a logical step. They visited St. Louis, Memphis, Little Rock, Kansas City and other places, where they encountered Mexican, Persian, Kurdish and Eritrean food, and traditional American barbecue. But before the plane tickets were purchased, there was a plan in place.
"For me, a lot of goes on before we ever go on a trip. The world is so small now. I knew we were going to New Orleans, so right away you think jambalaya and gumbo," says Louise. "So we took a cooking course to make sure we learned how to make those two things. And we talk to people in every restaurant we go into."
"The idea is to delight our palates," says Faiz. "Is it interesting enough and different enough for our guests?"
By discovering what they love to eat, they get a handle on what they want to prepare for their clientele. For Chef Louise, the next step is to figure out how to adapt the dishes to local ingredients. She is also influenced by the foods she enjoyed growing up.
"I also think that time is a kind of travel too, so when I think back -- my uncles hunted, so we ate duck in the fall and my dad smoked the goldeyes -- those were the things that I grew up with. Pickerel cheeks have always been a delicacy in our family. We didn't eat meat on Christmas Eve, so we ate the pickerel cheeks. They are very Manitoban. So using the jambalaya as an example, I thought instead of shrimp or any kind of seafood, it had to be something Manitoban, like pickerel cheeks."
And instead of Andouille sausage, she uses double-smoked kielbassa from Central Meats.
"It's very smoky. It's a very nice substitute. And so now we have a jambalaya with a Manitoba twist!"
In a sense, diners at Café Savour really are guests in the de Beers' home, since they live above the restaurant. And with its unique interior which features Louise's hand-painted table tops (instead of tablecloths), the restaurant is a destination, a special place to seek out. Which is just how they like it.
"We figured out what people wanted," says Louise. "We have a loyal clientele and we wanted to expand on that. We feel like when we entertain people in our home we want people to feel the same way here."
To that end, the de Beers found that a prix fixe menu allowed them the freedom to afford their guests a great deal of time and a more home-style experience.
"When we're serving people in our home, we always start with a little munchie and then an appetizer and then a soup or a salad. But we spread it out, it's not rushed," says Louise. "We want people to feel like we're treating them like our guests in our home. We make sure they eat very, very well so the prix fix menu works for us."
Their adventurous approach allows them to share with guests the excitement of things they would do with friends.
"We can share our travel experiences through the food," she says. "We now have enough background that we can really do our own thing. It's our restaurant now. We know the food's good and people will like it. We can have more fun with it."
The de Beers are sharing these three delightful recipes from the eclectic menu at Café Savour. You can visit their website at www.cafesavour.com or call them at 254-4681. Reservations recommended.
Denningvleis hails from Cape Province in South Africa. Café Savour's version is a slow-roasted lamb shank prepared with spices and tamarind. They have added cranberries for a Canadian twist.
4 lamb shanks
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium onions, sliced
125 ml (1/2 cup) of dried cranberries
8 bay leaves
10 allspice berries
50 ml (1/4 cup) tamarind concentrate from your favourite Indo-Asian store
5 ml (1 tsp) whole black peppercorns
1-2 chopped chilies
salt to taste
Grind the allspice and cloves together. Layer the onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, chilies and cranberries, in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place lamb shanks on top of the above mixture
Add 50 ml (1/4 cup) of boiling water to tamarind paste and pour over lamb shanks.
Sprinkle with allspice, cloves and salt.
Cover roasting pan and bake in 190C (375F) oven for 21/2 hours.
Switch off heat and allow to rest in oven for 1 hour.
Serve over brown basmati rice with your choice of vegetable. Yield : 4 servings.
Brandied Apricot Chocolate Pâté
Butter a 22 cm (9-inch) cake pan and line with parchment paper
Into a small saucepan place:
250 ml (1 cup) dried apricots
125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
75 ml (1/3 cup) brandy
75 ml (1/3 cup) apple juice
simmer for 10 minutes
Melt 500 ml (2 cups) semi-dark chocolate chips with 125 ml butter
Using a hand mixer on slow speed, mix in
125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
125 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
50 ml (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
50 ml (1/4 cup) flour
Add apricots, mix and place in prepared cake pan and bake for 1 hour at 175C (350F).
Melt 125 ml (1/2 cup) white chocolate. Use this to ice the cake.
For apricot garnish: Dip dried apricot halfway in white chocolate and lay on wax paper to cool. Melt dark chocolate in a baggie, Snip off corner and decorate apricot.
Quiche of the Day
You can use your favourite pie crust for this quiche or do what Café Savour does -- use a tortilla tucked into the pan. This is a very clever and simple idea -- and substantially reduces the fat! Quiche is a very flexible dish, so use what you have on hand and experiment with filling ingredients to your taste.
Stir together thoroughly in a large bowl:
8 large eggs
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
salt, pepper (optional: chives, dill, paprika, lemon pepper)
125 ml (1/2 cup) grated mozzarella cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
1 medium onion diced
500 ml (2 cups) chopped spinach
feta cheese to taste
Rub four 6" ramekins with a few drops of olive oil. For the crust, press a 10" flour tortilla, (spinach, whole wheat, etc.) into each ramekin. Fill with quiche filling. Sprinkle with more grated mozzarella cheese and some feta cheese. Bake at 175C (350F) for 30-35 minutes.
Suggested filling ingredients for your next quiche bake:
-- zucchini with basil or oregano
-- curried onion and tomato
-- 4 different cheeses
-- caramelized onion
-- salami and potato